My experience working with startups is that everyone underestimates the need for design work. The excuses I’ve heard range from ‘We can hire when we need’ to ‘Working in enterprise tech means I don’t really need designers.’

Looking at how bad their documentation is, presentation slides and their website. I can only imagine how much they must be regretting those statements.

However, those examples aside, the main reason most startups cite as a deterrent to quality design work is cost. The dollars required to get great design can be quite significant. Therefore a few free design tools that help you improve quality without breaking the bank is a must-have for startups.

Canva (

Designing on a budget

Design tools are essential
Design is simple with Canva

Canva is a simple-to-use design tool that is free! There are almost unlimited templates, but only a few are free though this is sufficient for most startups looking for basic design work.

It is very convenient for presentation design, social media design, name cards and even simple infographics. The interface makes it easy for most people to understand and use the service within minutes. Being able to upload your own pictures also allows you to customise your designs further.

Ideal use case: if you have simple design needs and have limited experience working with software tools, Canva is the best way option for you. Its easy-to-use interface and simple templates make designing a breeze.

Pexels (

Your free picture library

Design tools are essential
All your pictures for free

Pexels is a free stock photography site that has thousands of free high-resolution stock photos. All of them are licensed under Creative Commons Zero (CC0) which means you can copy, modify, distribute and even use them for commercial purposes without attribution.

This is great for people looking for images for websites, presentations and even as backgrounds for design, these high-res images are amazing.

Ideal use case: everyone needs pictures for everything. Presentàtion decks, documents, social media posts and even emails require images sometimes. If you need high-res images without paying for it, you can use Pexels to find the image that suits your needs.

Hubspot’s Infographic Templates (

Simple templates for quick work

Design tools are essential
Templates FTW

Hubspot needs to stop spamming me, but occasionally they do something useful and that’s where their infographic templates are awesome.

These simple-to-use templates provide a few backgrounds you can use to make professional, high-quality infographics. These are essential for the difficult-to-explain concepts that may confuse your customers.

Ideal use case: infographics are great when you’ve got complex concepts or products to explain, so a visual guide helps people understand your requirements. These templates can help you build infographics that look professional without the need to hire a professional designer.

Place It (

Mockups for your technology startup

Design tools are essential
Mockups are a great way to show people what your product looks like in their hands

If you’re doing a mobile or web service and you can’t afford high-quality photography, mockups are your best friend.

Using Place It, you show your app or web screens in real-life situations. These are great for websites and presentations to showcase your service to an audience.

Ideal use case: mobile app services generally need to show their app on an iPhone or Android device, so that people associate their product with a phone or device of their choosing. Using a mockup service like Place It, you can create great images for flyers, websites or even media materials.


Having a startup often means you don’t have an unlimited budget, so cutting corners without sacrificing quality is essential. The services above are great design tools to help save design costs for startups.

To read about more tips and tools for businesses in Asia, check out our other articles.